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Gloucester Celebrates Restoration of Little River with Dedication Ceremony

On a sunny Monday morning, a group of around 100 people assembled at an unlikely spot, the West Gloucester Water Treatment Plant, to celebrate the restoration of the Little River. About 50 years ago, the Little River was re-routed to make way for the water treatment facility. The river was moved several hundred feet from its original site, becoming a concrete-paved channel. Over the years, the channel deteriorated, and the river flooded the neighbors routinely. But, each spring, a small run of migratory fish still doggedly made their way up the river to Lily Pond.                           

New pool-and-ripple fish passage on the Little River.

The Little River is one of the smallest watersheds in the state that supports a migratory run of alewives, American eels, and, in the past, rainbow smelt. A collaboration of local, state, federal, and NGO partners have been working together for more than 15 years to restore the stream and habitat.

On May 23, a group of dedicated fish counters showed up at 7:30 am to complete the last part of the project: planting 1,000 salt marsh grass (Spartina) plants in the muddy tidal zone. A few hours later, Gloucester Mayor Sefatia Romeo-Theken and City Planning Director Gregg Cademartori hosted the dedication ceremony for the newly restored river. Truly a celebration of community partnership, representatives from federal, state, and local government spoke at the ceremony along the banks of the new pool-and-ripple fishway.

NOAA's Eric Hutchins shows five tiny glass eels to assembled group. The eels traveled 2,000 miles to return to the river.

In addition, speakers recognized the efforts of two high school students:

This year, we have seen hundreds of eels easily migrating up the new stream. While this season’s run of alewives has been low, several fish have been spotted at the top of the fishway, confirming that the fishway design works. The low run may be due to natural yearly cycles or possible different smells (olfactory cues) from the new sediments and rock. We hope to see a better return next season, and will keep looking for the rainbow smelt, as well.

The restoration of the Little River and the effort from all parties to make it happen is a reminder of how far we have come in understanding our coastal ecosystems, and the wider role they play in the ocean. As Deputy Regional Administrator Dan Morris said, “Today’s event should most certainly be a celebration, but a reminder, too, of the care we must take when we build for tomorrow.”